Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.


You may have seen the miracle sudoku video that spread this week–a good sort of virus, one based on an idea. About half a million people have watched Simon spend nearly half an hour solving a puzzle. No anger, no violence, no innuendo. Merely applied thinking about numbers.

How did it spread?

There are millions of people who aren’t doing important medical research, creating (or solving) fascinating puzzles or writing breakthrough Broadway shows–but who are eager to find and amplify these ideas.

Culture is created by these amplifiers.

“People like us talk about things like this.” A good idea isn’t worth much if it doesn’t reach people who can benefit from it.

Instead of the quack doctor who goes on TV in a craven attempt to be famous at any cost, they’re willing to be the patient, thoughtful doctor who reads the research and shares useful information, even if the ratings aren’t as high. This is the long-term influencer who earns the trust of a small circle of people. Mostly, it’s people who care enough to model the behavior they’d like to see from those around them.

Three days ago, Google once again used its monopoly power and opaque methods to shut down a much-beloved podcast app for ridiculous reasons. Only the outcry from smart-adjacent voices got them to back down. We get what we talk about and we talk about what we pay attention to.

Or consider this 14-minute documentary about how Harley-Davidson has relentlessly made bad decisions in serving its customers. Nearly a million people have watched it (that’s as many as a typical cable TV show) because people who didn’t make it cared enough to spread it.

We keep seeing proof that cable news and other media don’t simply report the culture, they create it. Each of us now has our own microphone and network, and we get to decide what to program and what to consume.

It turns out that spreading the news about things that are smart is, in itself, smart.

“I’ve dealt with this before”

There’s a huge gulf between earned expertise and strong opinion.

Knowing what others who have come before have done (and having successfully done it yourself) is demonstrably more effective than simply acting as if your opinion matters. Whether you’re dealing a lawsuit, cancer or a sous vide machine, you’re better off talking with someone who has earned their experience.

There’s a reason that there are very few loud amateur locksmiths. Either the lock opens or it doesn’t. Untrained voices tend to reserve their work for endeavors in which the results are either difficult to measure or happen far in the future.

Pique blindness

If you can study something behavioral on college students, you can bet it gets studied a lot. It’s easy and cheap to run these sorts of tests. Which is how we came to understand the power of pique and the risk of habituation.

It turns out that if you see something over and over again, you start to ignore it. And so marketers of all stripes work to pique your interest by making funky little adjustments. They’ll change the speed limit to 57, or hang a sign upside down. In one study, they found that a scientist dressed as a panhandler raised more money when he asked for 37 cents instead of a quarter. (No word about what happens when a panhandler dresses like a scientist.) And so, selfish marketers will put ʇuǝƃɹn in the subject line of an email that couldn’t be less urgent…

This leads to pique blindness.

Just as bright white snow can overwhelm our retina so we can’t see very well, all of this pique to fight habituation has a downside. It’s creating a culture of hustle and noise that only gets worse. Because then people start using pique blindness as an excuse for ever more pique.

One of the real dangers of pique blindness is that we’ll only end up seeing drama, breaking news and the crisis of the moment. The first thing we need to do is not bite the hook. Refuse to reward anyone or anything that uses pique to get your attention. Turn up the filters and walk away. The important stuff will get through even if we filter out some of the urgent.

Even more important: as Joni said, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Maybe what we need to do is invest daily effort in creating pique around the good things, the important things, the things we treasure. It could be as simple as breaking our pattern, coming up with a new way to walk the dog or greet a friend… It might involve breaking a habit in which a delight has become nothing much more than a comfort.

Everyone gets 24 hours of fresh attention, refilled daily. But if we continue to abuse it, we won’t be able to see with fresh eyes and appreciate what’s been there all along.

HT to Simon Sinek for the pique.

Alternatives to perfect

“If I can’t make it perfect, is it okay if I try to make it better?”

When a project doesn’t come out precisely the way we hoped, when customer service isn’t 100%, when the reality doesn’t match the dream, then what?

One option is to embrace your failure. To have your tantrum, to become bereft, to wallow in how unfair the world is. No sense messing up a perfect moment of imperfection.

The other option is to put some effort into making an imperfect situation a little less imperfect. Perhaps, with some distance, it might even be a lot less imperfect, or even better than you were hoping for in the first place.

Imperfect is a chance for contribution, connection and improvisation. It’s a chance to see the humanity behind the moment you were spending so much energy creating.

The alternative to perfect might be better.


[A deadline: tomorrow is the Early Decision deadline for the summer session of the altMBA. If you’ve been waiting to see what you’re capable of, today’s a great day to begin.

In a world turned upside down, if you have the chance to level up and contribute, I hope you’ll see what’s possible.]

But what if it works?

The difference between science and conspiracy theory/superstition is simple:

Good science leads to useful insights. And good science is the cure for bad science.

On the other hand, there are no good conspiracy theories, because they are attractive precisely because they’re unproven, imprecise and non-falsifiable. They’re not actually theories at all. They use confusion to create a sense of comfort and control when it’s in short supply.

It’s almost impossible to tell a good conspiracy theory from a bad one, hence they don’t work as theories.

And good conspiracy theories don’t lead to useful insights, nor do they help drive out the bad conspiracy theories. You can’t productively question someone’s superstition, because it never really thought it was an actual explanation of how the world is.

A good scientist has a theory and she’s eager to be proven wrong, so she can make better science. And delighted to be proven right, because she now has a useful insight.

Reality doesn’t care whether or not we believe in it, but it’s more useful for all of us when we understand it.

Bridges and tunnels

Robert Moses, the road builder, understood that that building tunnels takes just a little longer and costs just a little bit more.

And it turns out that bridges are monuments and create glory for those that find the resources to build them, there in the sky, for all to see.

Those are the two reasons why we end up with more bridges than tunnels. (Same is true with work culture and society at large).

But tunnels allow all sorts of productivity without calling attention to themselves or those that build them. A tunnel creates progress without changing the landscape. Many times, it’s an elegant solution to the problem for someone with the guts and fortitude to build one.

Less glory, more upside.

[Moses made consistent errors in his pursuit of glory, just as he undermined thriving communities, particularly those that involved people of color. It was a shameful use of power at the expense of people.]

Cost and value

One of my books took more than a year to write, ten hours a day. Another took three weeks. Both sell for the same price. The quicker one outsold the other 20 to 1.

A $200 bottle of wine costs almost exactly as much to make as a $35 bottle of wine.

The cost of something is largely irrelevant, people are paying attention to its value.

Your customers don’t care what it took for you to make something. They care about what it does for them.

The moral imagination

What do you dream of?

We’ve worked overtime to create a sports imagination. Kids dream of dunking a basketball or scoring the winning goal at the World Cup. That’s a pretty new phenomenon. Instant replay, endorsement deals and trading cards make it easy to imagine.

We’ve certainly established a profit imagination. Everywhere we turn, the p&l mindset isn’t far away. Add a zero. That’s winning.

And there’s a health imagination as well. The ideal of fitness and well-being, the very nature of an immune system that we’re supposed to support.

But what about the moral imagination?

Visualizing what’s possible. Deciding to do something about it. Wondering (to ourselves and then to the world, “how can I make this better?”)

Not because it’s our job or because we’ll win a prize. Simply because we can.

We can start where we are and we can make things better.


[PS Acumen has transformed Jacqueline Novogratz’ new book into an online course about moral imagination and our ability to make change happen. It’s usually $200 but free for anyone who buys a copy of the book. Details are here.]

When is it too soon?

If we’re holding back because we think someone (or the culture) might not be ready to give us what we want, it’s probably a good instinct. Nobody likes to be hustled.

But if you’re hoping to contribute, particularly if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, then go ahead. It’s probably not too soon. Or never too late.

People almost always want a smile, a kind word or a hand up sooner than we think and for longer than we imagine.

And there’s a story at the heart of it

What did we just tell ourselves about what happened?

And why do we choose to take the actions we take?

How does that narrative change the way we’ll deal with tomorrow?

Lots of things can trigger a change–some local, some global. But once a change occurs, the ripples that spread are almost always in the form of a story.

It’s a story that causes us to change our minds, to take action and to tell the others.

We don’t know what that book or that project is like until we experience it, but we have to decide now, so we tell ourselves a story. We must make a decision about how to engage with a stranger before we get to know them, and we do that by telling ourselves a story as well.

It’s on us to find, spread and ultimately create better stories. We aren’t passive consumers, dandelions in the wind. We’re active agents in what the people around us believe and what they do.

We’re relaunching the Story Skills Workshop today. Because it works. Because we need better stories. Because a story will grow your practice, expand your organization and help your neighbors too. It’s one of our most popular workshops, for a good reason. Bernadette Jiwa is an empath, a bestselling author and an experienced teacher.  I hope you’ll check it out. Click the purple circle to save a bunch of money today.